Mise en abyme

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La vache qui rit , the laughing cow on the cheese box, whose earrings in turn represent cheese boxes with a laughing cow with cheese box earrings

The term mise en abyme [ mi: z‿ɑ̃n‿abim ] ( old French abyme ; from ancient Greek ἄβυσσος abyssos "without a bottom, groundless, infinite") comes from heraldry and originally denotes a picture within a picture, hence an image that is itself contains.

In addition, it is used in epic and drama for a narrative method that corresponds to mathematical recursion . This use goes back to a diary entry by André Gide (summer 1893): “I like it very much when the subject of a work of art is implemented again in the spectrum of its characters - similar to the process of depicting a coat of arms in its field again ( mettre en abyme ). "

The "Droste effect" on historical cocoa packaging

Popular picture examples are the labels on the cheese boxes from La vache qui rit or the historical advertising posters for the Dutch Droste cocoa. Derived from the cocoa packaging, the mise en abyme is also known colloquially as the Droste effect .

A well-known text example is the nursery rhyme: “ A pug crept into the kitchen and stole an egg from the cook, / then the cook took the spoon and broke the pug in two. / Many pugs came and dug a grave for him / and set him a tombstone on which it was written: / A pug snuck into the kitchen and stole an egg from the cook / ... "(the same tune as" Mein Hut, der hat three corners ”is sung).


The term can be derived etymologically in two ways. Abyme or abîme is on the one hand a technical term from heraldry and describes the coat of arms in the coat of arms, i.e. a coat of arms in the coat of arms. Abime , written in this way, also means "abyss" and mise en abyme means "set in the abyss (infinite repetition)".


The mise en abyme is an illustrative or narrative method that was used in the vanitas depictions of the 16th and 17th centuries. It occurs frequently in the mid-20th century and is later used by many romantics (see also Metalepse ). It indicates the lifelessness of the representation and the lack of what is represented. This is a challenge to the reader or viewer's imagination.

In the following, various definitions or paraphrases of the mise en abyme are presented:

Gero von Wilpert (1955)

“Mise en abyme: (…), a term introduced by A. Gide (Journal, 1893; Les faux-monnayeurs , 1925) for a technique of frame narration corresponding to play in the play of drama , in which a or the framed internal narrative is self-reflexively reflected is the main (frame) plot or a part of it and can continue this indefinitely as if standing between two mirrors. "

- Gero von Wilpert : Subject Dictionary of Literature, 1955

The mise en abyme is therefore a specific repetition process on the narrative level, or on the discours level .

Werner Wolf (1993)

“The mise en abyme is the reflection of a macrostructure of a literary text in a microstructure within the same text. Can be mirrored elements of the fictitious histoire , elements of narration , that is elements of the switching and narrative situation itself or poetological elements (general discussion about the narrative situation addition). "

- Werner Wolf : Aesthetic illusion and the breaking of illusions in storytelling, 1993

Wolf specifies variation and symmetry as further repetition methods. The prerequisite for the mise en abyme is that the repetition is constituted on a different level than that originally given. There must therefore be a hierarchy of narrative levels (extra, intra- diegetic, etc.) in the text .

Werner Wolf also treats the mise en abyme in his book as an illusion-disrupting narrative method. But according to him it is by no means disruptive in itself. For him, it does not have to be a literal repetition, but a corresponding one is sufficient. Then the mise en abyme could not only be plausible and compatible with illusions, but also become an aid to understanding for the reader. Although it throws into the abyss, it can bring light into the darkness, solve riddles of the frame story in detective style in the internal story. In particular, reflections of histoire elements ( mise en abyme fictionelle ) are often illusion- compatible , namely when they appear as a dream, oracle or the like. Additional factors are necessary to disturb the illusion. One of these factors is, for example, the frequency of occurrence of mise en abyme and the number of levels of reflection. Another factor is the extent of the reflection content: individual elements of the story in partial mises en abyme are less disruptive to illusion than extensive and, in extreme cases, the entire history of total reflection.

In general, however, a mise en abyme disturbs illusions simply because - as Wolf says - it makes the constructed nature of the story visible. The repetition of the mise en abyme , even if only analogous, reveals a formal organization of striking artificiality.

Michael Scheffel (1997)

Many of the definitions given insist on an infinity of repetition, i.e. on infinite reflection. Michael Scheffel clearly distinguishes between simple and infinite reflection. It is directed against an inflationary use of the mise-en-abyme term. Accordingly, for him only the literal repetition of the framework in the internal history can be described as mise en abyme . Often associated with this is the motif of the book in the book: for example a character reading its own story or a book repeating elements of the frame narration. Often the characters within such a construction are writers who are understood as both narrated and narrative characters.

As an example he cites Novalis ' Heinrich von Ofterdingen : In the fifth chapter Heinrich finds a book with a hermit which - as Heinrich can only deduce from the illustrations of the text written in a foreign language - obviously tells its own story. (This refers to Goethe's Wilhelm Meister years of apprenticeship . Towards the end of the novel, Wilhelm Meister receives the apprenticeship letter from the Tower Society, which contains the history of his becoming.)

Metzler Lexicon of Literary and Cultural Theory (2004)

A relatively new definition in the Metzler Lexikon literary and cultural theory , which also comes from Werner Wolf, defines the term mise en abyme very broadly and allows typological differentiations of the mise en abyme . A distinction is made there between the mise en abyme :

  • in quantitative terms:
    • Pickled mise en abyme of small size compared to framed mise en abyme of large size
    • Unique versus frequent or endless mise en abyme
    • Partial versus total mise en abyme
  • in qualitative terms:
    • literal versus transposed, ie changed reflections
    • probable versus improbable or paradoxical mise en abyme
  • according to subject areas:
    • content versus formal mise en abyme
  • in functional terms:
    • metatextual functionalization and the prospective and retrospective mise en abyme , through which (mostly content-related) gaps of the higher level are filled or puzzles are uncovered (this is a special case of the implicitly commenting, meaningful and clarifying function that is often similar to the mise en abyme a narrative instance or as a use of it)
    • With frequent or paradoxical use, the mise en abyme can also have an illusion-breaking effect (literary artificiality)

See also


  • Lucien Dällenbach: Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme. Éditions du Seuil, Paris 1977, ISBN 2-02-004556-7 .
  • Werner Wolf: Aesthetic illusion and the breaking of illusions in storytelling. Theory and history with an emphasis on English illusion-disrupting storytelling. (Book series of Anglia, vol. 32), Niemeyer, Tübingen 1993, ISBN 3-484-42132-0 .
  • Michael Scheffel : Forms of self-reflective storytelling. A typology and six exemplary analyzes. (Studies on German Literature, Vol. 145), Niemeyer, Tübingen 1997, ISBN 3-484-18145-1 .
  • Gero von Wilpert : Subject dictionary of literature. Kröner, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-520-84601-3 .
  • Werner Wolf: Mise en Abyme. In: Ansgar Nünning (Hrsg.): Metzler-Lexikon literature and culture theory. Approaches - people - basic concepts. Metzler, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-476-01889-X .

Web links

Commons : Mise en abyme  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Xaver Frühbeis: About Pugs, Mothers and Nebelspaltern: My hat, it has three corners . BR4-Klassik noon music extra, January 4, 2011.
  2. Werner Wolf: Aesthetic Illusion and Illusion Breaking in the Art of Narration. Theory and history with an emphasis on English illusion-disrupting storytelling. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1993, ISBN 3-484-42132-0
  3. Michael Scheffel : Forms of self-reflective narration. A typology and six exemplary analyzes. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1997, ISBN 3-484-18145-1
  4. Werner Wolf: "Mise en Abyme." In: Ansgar Nünning (Hrsg.): Metzler-Lexikon Literatur- und Kulturtheorie. Approaches - people - basic concepts. Metzler, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-476-01889-X